Treating your workers as expendable machines

To The Guardian

I fear the plight of the middle class is even worse than Larry Elliott portrays. In addition to being “hollowed out” and suffering stagnant incomes, much of the middle class – public and private sector – has been subjected for two decades to increasing workplace monitoring and micromanagement, bureaucratic control, corporate compliance obligations, target-chasing, constant appraisals, the loss of automatic pay increments based on length of service, hot-desking in battery-farm open-plan offices, “presenteeism” and attacks on “unaffordable” occupational pensions.

Many of the middle class used to enjoy relative autonomy, creativity and professional discretion, based on expertise and trust, in performing their jobs; not any more. Now they are treated as automatons, with any sign of individuality or personality viewed with suspicion by management.

While many politicians and commentators like to pretend that “we are all middle class now”, the reality is that much of the middle class is experiencing “proletarianisation” – they are being treated with the same disdain and dispensability as the working classes have always been.

Pete Dorey, Bath, Somerset. (The Week, 10 May 2019)

I don’t understand where this approach to people-management came from, but I suspect a good bit of it originates in the business schools.   In my personal experience only a few lecturers at business schools have any actual down-and-dirty management experience, but they are very enthusiastic about bottom lines and systems and share prices.

My impression is that the heart and humanity has been excised from matters of commerce and business, whereas management is all about Epicurean teamwork, encouragement, even having a bit of fun along the way.  The new breed of managers  seem driven and humourless – the sort of people who regard their fellow workers as machines.  Nowhere is it recorded, but I suspect Epicurus would maintain that workers should go to work happily and enthusiastically.

Profiteering from migrant kids held in detention camps

The Trump administration has been holding migrant children -whether they came to the U.S. alone or were forcibly separated from their guardians – in a network of makeshift tent camps. An unnamed official at the Department of Health and Human Services told NBCNews that housing costs $775 per child per day.   That’s more than a $675 deluxe guest room at the Trump international hotel in Washington, D.C. (the  average U.S. hotel room costs $229.00).

Maintenance reportedly eats up most of the $775 daily cost per child for the tent camps, since it’s difficult to keep temporary structures suitable for humans in a desert. In permanent facilities run by Health and Human Services, the cost is $256 per person per night, and NBC News estimates that even keeping children with their parents and guardians in Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities would only cost $298 per night.

Even at the permanent facilities, the conditions are bad, with a lack of soap and blankets.  Clinical-law professor Warren Binford interviewed child detainees at a facility in Clint, Texas, and told  Isaac Chotiner at The New Yorker  “There was food on their shirts, and pants as well. They told us that they were hungry. They told us that some of them had not showered or had not showered until the day or two days before we arrived. Many of them said they had only brushed their teeth once, that there was a lice infestation, as well as an influenza outbreak, at that facility, and that a number of the children are being taken into isolation rooms, quarantine areas where there’s nobody with them except for other sick children.”

Like the prison industry for the U.S. criminal justice system, private companies can make a lot of money in the immigrant-detention business. Private-prison firm Geo Group has reportedly already made $500 million from migrant detention centers since Trump’s “zero tolerance policy” began (reported by the Miami New Times).  Southwest Key Programs, a nonprofit that set up a boys’ shelter, reportedly netted $955 million in federal contracts between 2015 and 2018, according to The New York Times. A network of nonprofit groups, BCFS, reportedly received $179 million in the same time period. BCFS is the same contractor that held migrant kids in parked vans for 39 hours earlier this year, as ICE slowly did the paperwork to reunite the children with their families.

The Texas Tribune reports that Texans have been collecting donations of diapers, soap, and toothbrushes. So far, Customs and Border Protection has refused to accept the donations.  (reported in The Ballot, Conde Nast,  26 June 2029).

My comment:  its hard to know how to express one’s disgust.  This is the United States they are talking about?  We as taxpayers are being made to pay for this Trump policy of “everything has to turn a profit for the election donors”?   How can you support treating little children like this?

But there is another point, seldom discussed: why are the migrants coming in such numbers in the first place?  Have you noticed that the reason for the huge numbers of migrants is described as “fear of the violence”, and little more is said.

As I understand it, this violence in Central America is driven by drug gangs fighting for market share, mostly in the United States. So, if I am right, the poor people of Central America are suffering for the drug habits of rich Americans, while the average US taxpayer, who doesn’t touch a “recreational” drug,  is joining the poor migrants in paying for the self-indulgence of the few, mostly untouchably rich, and having to watch while our government botches the migrant crisis, at huge cost.  This, apparently is making America great again.  Worse, there is no sense of shame – the base loves it. Epicurus, on the other hand, would have condemned everything about it.

 

Environmental concerns begin with population

Letter to The Guardian:

“Your article on “zero heroes” ( e.g zero emission champions) was worthy but it tiptoed around the main factor causing increased global pollution: increasing human numbers.  Progressives often parade their environmental concerns loudly, but are strangely silent on the question of population growth.  How can we get on top of warming planet, increased pollution, habitat destruction snd species extinction if we add 80 million people to the population every year?

“Every country should have a population policy that seeks to stabilise or reduce their population.”

Gordon Payne, Fremantle,  Western Australia. (Guardian Weekly 31 May 2019)

It is astonishing, is it not, that so few people focus on population growth when talking about the climate crisis? What we ought to be doing is offering family planning to people all over the globe who, for cultural, religious and financial reasons, have no access to it – if they want it (we can’t make them).  This particularly applies to Africa, whose population growth is a huge and destabilising problem (we have only seen the tip of the iceberg so far in terms of African migration to Europe).  India, already the most populous country on Earth, is another example.  There they already have  a serious water problem.  Culture and religion stand in the way of sensible policy.

 

How to behave on a date

Unbelievably, The Independent newspaper recently offered the following tips on dating behaviour:
  • Even if the conversation has run dry within 15 minutes, do not do a runner. It’s just mean and rude.
  • No “negging” – handing out backhanded compliments to gain the psychological upper hand. Although recommended by pick-up “experts”, it usually backfires for those looking for long-term romance.
  • Even if you are getting on brilliantly, rein in your fantasies about the future. Don’t make jokes about your wedding, and do not invite your companion to an event too far in the future.
  • Don’t treat it like a job interview. “How did you choose to spend your time during the career gap you had in 2017?” is not an appropriate question. Try to make the sharing of personal information reciprocal.
  • Don’t bring a friend. It may put you at ease, but it’s sure to have the opposite effect on your date.
  • Even if it’s going badly, don’t exploit your date for their professional expertise, however tempting it may be.

Wouldn’t you think all this would be common sense?  Whatever happened to judgment?  It might have been appropriate to tell the reader, not only what not to do, but what works best.  If I may make  some common sense suggestions:

*    Make her laugh

*    Make her laugh

*    Make her laugh

*    Ask her questions and don’t talk about yourself unless she asks.

*     Self-deprecation with a wry grin often works a treat ( in England, anyway!)

Please add to the above.  Only the experienced and successful need apply.

 

The genius of Einstein

Walter Isaacson, biographer ofAlbert Einstein, writes the following (page 550):

Perhaps the most important aspect of his personality was his willingness to be non- conformist. “The theme I recognise in Galileo’s work” , he said, “ is the passionate fight against any kind of dogma based on authority”.

Plank, Poincare and Lorentz all came close to some of the breakthroughs Einstein made in 1905.  But they were a little too confined by dogma based on authority.  Einstein alone among them was rebellious enough to throw out the conventional thinking that had defined science for centuries.

Einstein’s fundamental creed was that freedom was the lifeblood of creativity.  “The development of science and of the creative activities of the spirit, “ he said,” requires a freedom that consists in the independence of thought from the restrictions of authoritarian and social prejudice”.  Nurturing that should be the fundamental role of government and the mission of education”.

There was a simple set of formulas that defined Einstein’s outlook. Creativity required  being willing not to conform.  That required nurturing free minds and free spirits, which in turn required “a spirit of tolerance”. And an underpinning of tolerance was humility – the belief that no one had the right to impose ideas and beliefs on others

The world had seen a lot of impudent geniuses.  What made Einstein special was that his mind and soul were tempered by this humility.  He could be serenely self- confident in his lonely course yet also humbly awed by the beauty if nature’s handiwork…….

For some people, miracles serve as evidence of God’s existence.  For Einstein it was the absence of miracles that reflected divine providence.  The fact that the cosmos is comprehensible, that it follows laws, is worthy of awe”.   ( Einstein – his Life and Universe” by Walter Isaacson, published by Simon & Schuster, 2008)

What kept them?

Copthorne Primary school in West Yorkshire, UK, has banned its pupils from using the word “like” as a filler.  In future, those who pepper their sentences with “likes” will be asked to spend five minutes thinking about how they might have expressed themselves better.

The verbal tic is thought to be spreading thanks to shows like Love Island: in 2017, a contestant said “like” 36 times in 90 seconds.

Spreading?   It’s already everywhere.  It’s like (whoops!) “you know”, also a filler and I suppose it is popular because the user hasn’t thought through what he or she intended to say, and is trying to prevent interruption. Leaving aside the United States for a moment (students at Georgetown University can be heard using it every five seconds, walking down the street talking interminably on their phones), I fear that the good old British class divisions will ensure that “like” becomes a class identifier.

Well, it isn’t classy, is it?

(You thought people had stopped talking about class in Britain?  Yes, they have, but it is still there)

Know-Nothing Administration: don’t bother me with facts

Trump has told all agencies to cut at least a third of their advisory committees by September in order to weaken the science-based regulations process and remove scientific oversight.  462 committees are potentially involved, even without the agencies mandated by law.  At EPA and Interior, advisory committees provide scientific and technical expertise from people who are considered to be at the top of their field, and are a way to include local voices, as well as industry leaders, to discuss how best to manage public lands and property.  The agencies benefit hugely from outside expertise. 

This unprecedented attack on science-based regulations designed to protect the environment and public health represents the gravest threat to the effectiveness of the EPA — and to the federal government’s overall ability to do the same — in the nation’s history,” said Christine Todd Whitman, who was EPA chief under President George W. Bush.

She said the committees ensure the department is “not just asking its most favorite stakeholders what they should do.” The whole point of having committees, she added is to create “a transparent way to get this kind of input.”  The. administration that says it wants to put decision making back into local hands, away from Washington. But advisory committees that are made up of just those local people.  The policy is contradictory and totally unnecessary.

“It’s interesting that this order comes now, after the administration spent two years undercutting and neglecting the advisory network that it’s had at its disposal,” said Genna Reed, lead science and policy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “And now they are trying to use that neglect as a justification for removing these advisory boards for not being useful.”  

The Trump administration in recent years has shuffled career scientists out of their positions, put limits on which science experts are qualified to sit on advisory boards and created a special White House panel that’s designed in part to counter the science linking climate change to national security threats. (An amalgam, or precis, of journalistic comment from a variety of sources)

Trump knows no science, disrespects it, and sees no need to consider expert opinions on any issue critical to the American public.  Expert opinion makes him feel uncomfortable because he sincerely believes he is a genius and knows everything that’s worth knowing.  There is no point in reading expert briefs because he knows it all already, or in any case knows better.  The only advice he will listen to concerns the feelings of his base at any given moment, and what will get him a second term.

We are going through another self-induced, self-immolating spasm similar to that of the 1930s. This time we are lead by undisciplined donkeys, more interested in power than in the future of the young and of the planet.  I don’t agree with Epicurus about ignoring politics.  Ignoring the clowns and not bothering to vote, have brought us to this dangerous point, and it is going to be proved a huge disaster.   You cannot be an Epicurean, or even a human being blessed with common sense, and not be alarmed.

Epicureans believe in science and the thorough, methodical scientific method. Cling to it!

 

 

 

An unexpected encounter

I don’t want to bore non-Brits with too many comments on Brexit, existential though it is.  But I would like to tell a short story.

My wife and I were recently walking round an ancient Greek temple in Sicily when a man, who I had never seen before in my life,  approached me, and, with his face six inches from mine, told me he was French and from Paris.  He said to me, quite fiercely:

“I hope you did not vote for Brexit!

To which I replied, “Do you think I look like the sort of person who would vote for Brexit?”. He looked a bit disconcerted.  I continued without a pause for thought:

”Brexit, Monsieur, is the worst disaster to have occurred to Britain since 1066, when  you guys sent over the Normans to conquer us,  introducing your feudal system into the British Isles, by the way”.

What could he reply?

Britain’s most unpopular generation

Britain’s youngest adults have suffered a slump in their discretionary spending power, while people aged 65 and over have enjoyed a sharp 37% rise. The findings shatter the myth of millennials wasting their disposable income on fripperies.

In its first ever national audit on the subject, the Resolution Foundation’s new Intergenerational Centre concludes that compared with people the same age at the turn of the millennium, today’s 18- to 29-year-olds are 7% poorer in real terms after paying rent, or if they can afford them , mortgages.  Much of their spare cash goes on groceries, utilities and education – while baby boomers splash out more as a proportion on recreation, restaurants, hotels and culture. “The clear picture in terms of day-to-day living standards as measured through household consumption is of generational progress for the older generation and generational decline for the younger ones,” the report says.

A spokesman for Generation Rent said “resentment is growing” and the co-founder of the Intergenerational Foundation accused older people of “breaking the social contract”. Angus Hanton said older voters allowed policies that have financially hobbled the young: “When asked to ease the pressure on the intergenerational contract by contributing a little more if they have it, older generations have demanded universal benefits for their generation, but not for others.”

The writer is not a boomer, having been born before the Second World War, but recognises the  irritating collective sense of entitlement displayed by the boomers.  They have brought us successive right-wing governments, short-termism, unattractive greed and a seeming indifference to the poor and the less educated, not to mention shipping jobs to Asia, introducing student loans, bidding up the cost of housing, and introducing the dire and disgraceful gig economy.

All this is a generalisation.  The boomers are not a monolithic group.  It could be argued that the above cruel and uncaring measures were  brought on only by a small proportion of boomers who had (have?)political and financial power, not by the majority.  They are observations to be used with caution.

But, excuse the truisms,  but if you vote for it you part-own it.   And you can’t take it with you.  Young people need stable jobs and houses of their own.-  now.  Wise Epicureans, within  the tax rules, should pass over cash to them while they are alive – they need it now, not, given the success of medicine at keeping us all alive, when they are dead.  However, if you don’t vote you will be left out, and the boomers tend to vote. The results have not been very encouraging.

Labour exploitation

“Great abundance is heaped up as a result of brutalizing labour, but a miserable life is the result”. 

(p.100, “The Essential Epicurus”, translated by Eugene O’Connor, Great Books in Philosophy series)

The employment practices of Big Business, the outsourcing and the indifference of politicians have led the the highest suicide rate per thousand in the world.  I refer to the United States .  One can buy, say, a book from Amazon and it arrives within twenty-four hours, facilitated by people who barely earn a living wage.

I once worked for a US company that paid a pittance, had you standing in a hot room for nine hours a day (no chairs allowed) gave you ten minutes for lunch, and you had to ask permission to from the supervisor to go to the men’s room or visit the water fountain.  When eventually  I ran my own business I was glad of this Mr. Gradgrind experience – it taught me forcibly what not to do.

The company in Chicago referred to above?  I lasted three weeks, refusing to be treated like a disposable machine.

 

Talking to skeptics about rising seas

From Scott McNeil, Banstead, Surrey, UK

In your article about the Greenland ice sheet melting, you mention how “bad news begins to wash over you” . I spend time in parts of the US that have a lot of climate change sceptics. Discussing evidence and reasoning is often met with suspicion, or even outright derision, but I have found one thing that consistently gives them pause for thought: visualisations of the forecast sea level rise over the next 100 years.

Those that show the rise that is “locked in” due to current temperature rises and which focus on low-lying areas in Florida, Louisiana and Texas are particularly effective. I would encourage others who have similar “discussions” to use them as a tool to help.

My comment: In the part of the Florida Keys I know quite well, the sea level at high tide is a mere twelve inches  below the land level, and, over the period of years we have been visiting, it  has visually risen.  The Keys are basically a sand/ coral bar and are possibly the most vulnerable place in the US for a climate catastrophe.  The cottage where we stay was demolished by the recent hurricane.   Indeed the house market is lively and people still want to live there.  I would give the Keys about 30 years and it will be under water. But talk to locals and they are in total denial.  As go the Keys so goes Miami, which is on life support, but no one living there seems to know it.  To rescue it will be horrendously expensive, if it is possible at all.  The delusions of mankind!

Epicureanism: 12 main conclusions about the universe

From time to time I publish, or re-publish, some basic background information  about Epicurean science.

 Epicurus reached twelve  conclusions of particular importance, provable through firm evidence and reasoning. The three faculties being given us by Nature to deduce this evidence are (1) our five senses, (2) our faculty of perceiving “anticipations,” and (3) our faculty of “feeling” pleasure and pain. We have to  adopt  those conclusions supported by convincing evidence, and never hold to be true any conclusions which are not.

Because our faculties report their sensations exactly as they perceive them,  we must  honor what they report to us, even information distorted by distance or other obstacles. No firm evidence is ever to be regarded as worthless. Error occurs only in the mind, and where evidence about a matter is insufficient, we must wait before labelling any opinion about the matter as true or false. Only if we use our faculties properly we can be  confident in  our conclusions.

Thus we can conclude that there is no need to rely on any gods, priests, or supernatural claims for our understanding of Nature, and identify the following twelve aspects of nature that are crucial to understanding how Nature, and our faculties, operate:

1.       Matter is uncreatable.

2.       Matter is indestructible.

3.       The universe consists of solid bodies and void, has always been there and was not created by a creator.

4.       Solid bodies are either compounds or simple.

5.       The multitude of atoms is infinite.

6.       The void is infinite in extent, 

7.       The atoms are always in motion.

8.       The speed of atomic motion is uniform.

9.       Motion is linear in space, vibratory in compounds.

10.     Atoms are capable of swerving slightly at any point in space or time to form large bodies such as planets.

11.      Atoms are characterized by three qualities, weight, shape and size.

12.     The number of the different shapes is not infinite, merely innumerable.

The method by which these observations were established can be found in Epicurus’ Letter to Herodotus and Lucretius’  “De Rerum Natura”, and “Authorised Doctrines” 22-26, which describe essential aspects of this process, e.g speculation based on “logic” not firmly supported by evidence from one or all of the three faculties will lead to error.  (Epicurus and his Philosophy, by Norman DeWitt and Paradosis and Survival by Prof Diskin Clay)  

.Modern discoveries in physics would call for the use of new terms in the place of “matter” and “atoms,” which were coined by the ancient Greeks long before men had means to look inside what we today call an atom. But it is a mistake to presume that Epicurus’ views are wrong simply because we have new terms to describe the smallest constituents of the universe. Epicurus was very clear in stating that his essential position was that, at some fundamental level, the universe is composed of elements that are indestructible and indivisible.

It is immaterial whether this fundamental indivisible level is described as “molecular,” “atomic,” or “subatomic,” or by any other name which might be given to observable phenomena. The essential point established by the “true reasoning” method of Epicurus is that at some point an indivisible level exists. No matter what name we may give to the phenomena at that level, any phenomena which is observable to the senses exists as part of our own universe, and was neither created by, nor is subject to, any supernatural forces.  (New Epicurean.com). 

Epicurus did not invent atomism, but did, with his “ swerve” suggest the method by which planets, comets etc  were formed. But it is his stated or inferred examples of how to deal with and treat one’s fellow human beings, individually and en masse, that is the focus of this blog. We are still not good at doing that!

Abortion laws in America

Here are some details on the newest American abortion bans, by state.

* Important note: Supporters of reproductive rights have filed multiple lawsuits against this type of law. None of these early abortion bans are currently in effect or are being enforced.

Alabama – No abortion after 0 weeks. Allows exceptions if the woman’s life is threatened. No exceptions for rape or incest.

Arkansas — No abortion after 18 weeks. Allows exceptions for rape, incest or medical emergencies.

Georgia – No abortion after 6 weeks. Allows exceptions if the woman’s life is endangered, if the pregnancy is deemed “medically futile” and in cases of rape or incest if the woman files a police report.

Kentucky – No abortion after 6 weeks. No exceptions for rape or incest. Allows exceptions if the woman’s life is endangered.

Louisiana – No abortion after 6 weeks. No exceptions for rape or incest. Allows exceptions if the woman’s life is endangered or if the pregnancy is deemed “medically futile.”

Mississippi – No abortion after 6 weeks. No exceptions for rape or incest. Allows exceptions if the woman’s life is endangered.

Missouri – No abortion after 8 weeks. No exceptions for rape or incest. Allows exceptions if the woman’s life is endangered.

Ohio – No abortion after 6 weeks. No exceptions for rape or incest. Allows exceptions if the woman’s life is endangered.

Utah – No abortion after 18 weeks. Allows exceptions for rape or incest if the doctor performing the abortion verifies that the incident was reported to law enforcement. Allows exceptions if the woman’s life is endangered.  ( compiled by Carrie Feibel, Sarah McCammon and Carmel Wroth, NPR).

The Republican strategy is to get the issue before the Supreme Court and have Roe vs. Wade overturned.

Meanwhile, the extreme right wing is making hay while the sun shines, introducing a variety of legislation that is anti-black, anti-immigrant, anti-women, indeed anti-everything except rich, “deserving” men.  Whether all or even some, of the laws passed survive their visits to the Courts (themselves often dominated by Republican lawyers) is another matter. But the threat to human rights and a civilised society is clear.

As for abortion, I believe forcing women to have children they can’t, or won’t, cherish and bring up as decent citizens is a sin against (especially poor) women,  the family and the rest of us.  I suspect, but can’t prove, that there could be a correlation between the unwanted child and later anti-social behaviour: drink, drugs, domestic violence, gang membership and use of guns against other members of society. We need a balanced, happy well-adjusted population, not scores of aggrieved and unhappy, unwanted kids.

 

 

Re-cycling, Part 2: Endlessly recyclable plastic

Dr.  Brett Helms. who heads up a team of scientists, has announced that he has discovered a way of making scrap plastic indefinitely re- recyclable able.   

Plastic material can be recycled, but because its quality degrades during the recycling process, even the stuff that makes it as far as a recycling plant (which is a small fraction of the total) can only be reused once or twice, producing a progressively inferior product before ending up in a landfill or incinerators.

Now, though, scientists say that polydiketoenaminet can be recycled over and over again, with no loss of quality. Like all plastics, PDKD is composed of polymers: stringy molecules made up of repeating, carbon-containing compounds called monomers.

For a plastic to be recycled, it must be broken down into its component monomers.   But there are usually problems: the bonds are too strong to separate the monomers; and chemicals added to the plastic to make it transparent, or tough, cling to them and contaminate the process. The new material can be broken down to a molecular level and separated from chemical additives by simply immersing it in an acid bath for 12 hours. Like Lego blocks, the monomers can then be reassembled to make good-as-new plastic in any colour, shape or form.  (The Week 25 May 2019).

Another reason, among many, to praise science, not to trash it as so many conservatives do these days.   By the way, if commercially successful, it would be a big blow to the petro-chemical industry.iu

Big company mismanagement: don’t fly British Airways!

We were on our way home from Catania airport, Sicily, on a British Airways flight.  It turned out that BA had transported 18 disabled people from Gatwick airport – in wheelchairs –  to Sicily, and that these same people were on our return flight.  ( I hope they enjoyed themselves)

Now you would think that BA would, when booking them in the first place, check whether Catania, a regional airport, had the requisite disabled-handling equipment, similar to that in London. But, no, they had trouble loading the disabled people. Our flight was  delayed and delayed. We were given no information (of course) while we waited in an area with seating for about half the passengers.

At last we were told to board. Whoops! No! Everyone was held on a loading ramp, standing without seats for an hour and a half, while airline staff members  told us it wasn’t their fault.  There was nowhere to sit (I have a painful back and right hip), and the children naturally became fractious.  Suffice to say that the flight did leave – three hours late, and we eventually reached home from Gatwick at 5 a.m, four hours later than expected.  You can rely on BA to spoil a great holiday.

But let me come to the point – we were each handed a slip of paper, purporting to be an apology.  The sense of it was as follows:

Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience caused.  Total amount of this free voucher GBP 5.00 (about $7.00!) to be used for light refreshments at the issued location (Catania, where we had just come from!) for up to 3 months.  Can be used in participating airport outlets  (e.g food outlets) and not on board.’

In short, an insult to the intelligence. It would have been better to have said nothing.  The offer chits littered the gangway as disgruntled passengers disembarked. The motivation was obvious : BA , in its annual report could claim that x thousands of passengers thad been “compensated” for late arrival.

BA is “managed” by people whose incompetence and lack of any idea of customer care and satisfaction is well known, but never seems to change.   This treatment was not an Epicurean experience!  My personal ataraxia after a nice holiday was – zero.  I would rather stay at home in future rather than fly British Airways.

 

Some light relief: a little unknown bit of history

My father took the surrender of the Third Reich.  Yes, truly.

It happened like this.  My father was a Squadron Leader in the Royal Air Force, duty officer on the day in question on a North German airfield occupied by the British in 1945.  Hitler had committed suicide and Admiral Doenitz had taken over as Reichs President at the instruction of Hitler, and the war was as good as over, although this was not yet clear to my father and his fellow officers.

A Nazi aircraft was spotted,  approaching the airfield. My father said he was in a quandary.  Should he order it shot down?  He let it land.

The plane taxied to the spot where my father and his squad were standing, arms at the ready, guns loaded.  Out of the plane walked Reichs President Doenitz in full Naval uniform and decorations. My father was dumbfounded.  Doenitx gave a Nazi bow and clicked his heels. ( I asked my father if he had saluted a senior officer, but he avoided responding)

”I am here to tender the unconditional surrender of the Third Reich,” said Doenitz, in English and proffering the handle of his sword

This development “posed a bit of a problem”, my father told me later, one of the understatements of the Century.  Should the man be handed over to Montgomery, the British commander, or to Eisenhower? What was the proper way to deal with this unexpected event.  Being British he said the first thing that came into his head:

”Sir, said Dad, “could I offer you a gin and tonic in the Mess?”

So Doenitz got his drink, but nobody thought it appropriate to discuss the flight, the weather or, indeed, the war.  Doenitz was sent on the Eisenhower’s headquarters that day and he and other senior Nazis were arrested and later tried.  It appears that he flew to the British sector to avoid the Russians and because he thought he would be treated by the British in a gentlemanly manner.  He got that right.

This story is absolutely true but is not mentioned in the historical accounts, to the best of my knowledge. I don’t want it to be lost. The gin illustrates my father’s Epicurean persuasion.

 

Reform the current capitalist system!

American capitalism transformed the lives of millions and thereby did a good job for the majority.  Arguably, happiness seems to have peaked in the 1950s.  But now the system has clearly  become self-serving, exploitative and unfit for purpose, creating massive wealth disparities and harming young people in particular with its employment policies.  It has been allowed to become a grabbitocracy.  I speak here as someone who was born a conservative, but who now finds the way the country is an embarrassment, and about as far away from Epicurean thought as possible.

The system is not set up to tackle the twin challenges of climate crisis and the threatening rise of China.  The big corporations, with their overpaid CEOs call the political shots and  pay little or no tax to maintain a decent society, which needs to be built anew to serve everyone, not just the 1%.  The following  suggestions are just for starters:

First to go has to be Citizens United, arguably the biggest mistake made by any Supreme Court in its history.

Secondly, all  constituency  boundaries should by law be determined by non-political, disinterested lawyers, sworn to serve the whole country faithfully, regardless of political leanings ( yes, a tall order!)

Thirdly, retiring politicians should be banned from lobbying their former colleagues for ten years.

Fourthly, the anti-trust system has atrophied and should be revived.

Fifthly, compensation to management, and especially CEOs, has grown exponentially, relative to that of employees, and the ratio should be reduced, substantially.

Sixthly, the minimum wage should provide a living wage.  If you can’t pay your staff a living wage you shouldn’t be in business.

Seventhly, universities and colleges are behaving like corporations and have forgotten their purpose. The student loan system is a corrupt scam. No one should  start their working lives with huge debt.

Lastly, the tax dodges and the 15% tax on “carried interest” used by the super-rich should be made illegal.

This is not socialism; it is patriotism. It stands for Epicurean moderation, indeed, common sense.

 

Plastic waste (no, don’t move on to something else – this important! ) Part 1

Annual global sales of plastic bottles, glass bottles, cans and cartons are expected to reach 1.9 trillion in 2019.

Volunteers who took part in 229 clean-up events on beaches and river banks in the UK found 49,000 pieces of packaging litter. Of this, 15.5% were Coca Cola bottles, and 10.3% were produced by Pepsi.  Other major polluting material came from chocolate wrapping (Cadbury and Nestle) and McDonalds.  Manufacturers of all this gunk pay a mere 10% of the disposal costs; the remainder is paid for by local councils, taxpayers and the environment itself.  You and me!  (reported by The Guardian/Campaign to Protect Rural England).

Leaving aside the issue as to whether anybody at all should be drinking overly large amounts of Coke and Pepsi, fast food or chocolate bars ( the British taxpayer pays for the health results for the over-consumers, but we all support freedom, don’t we?), the companies concerned are clearly not doing enough to encourage recycling, and it isn’t even clear whether re-cyclers worldwide really recycle a lot of the waste, or whether they quietly bury it in landfills.

Opinions differ on these issues.  Epicureans , for instance, advocate moderation.  What the more  laisser-faire advocates cannot deny is that we are collectively despoiling the environment, and that it is unjust to ask people who have not had  a Coke, a Pepsi or. a McDonalds meal for twenty five years, to pay out of their pockets for the selfish and careless behavior of the people who do consume these things.  I say, “Don’t ban them. Put the prices up and use the extra money to recycle.  Just stop freeloading!”.    (Part 2, more positive,  be posted tomorrow)

The war against antibiotic resistance: Part 2, the good news

The threat posed by antibiotic resistance has finally got through to governments.  98 new formulations are being tested in animals, and nearly two-thirds attack bacteria differently from older drugs, increasing their chance of success.

In May this year, the UK government will  pay two companies to bring new anti-microbial drugs to market. The price of the drug will be “delinked” from what the company needs to recoup its investment, so there is no pressure to market the new drugs aggressively, and they can be saved for the cases that resist all other treatments.

The US Congress also plans to discuss such “market entry reward” schemes for new antibiotics, including an idea called “play or pay”, in which drug firms that aren’t working on antibiotics have to pay into a fund to reward companies that do. Existing legislation allowing government agencies to reward firms that develop biodefence drugs for which there is no market, such as anthrax vaccines, may also be pressed into service.

If that sounds like it will cost taxpayers a pretty penny, compare it with the cost of treating resistance – $2.2 billion a year in the US, according to a study last March. In a patented antibiotics market worth $700 million in the US, another $700 million might get things started, says Outterson.

We might not even need to pay directly. In November, a drug called zoliflodacin passed tests showing it was safe and effective in humans against gonorrhoea, which has become so antibiotic-resistant that some infections are now almost incurable.

Many promising new drugs get this far and no further, but this one is already set to enter the big, expensive tests needed before it can be licensed. The trials will be financed by Entasis, the US company developing the drug, and also by governments and other donors organised by GARDP, a global organisation promoting antibiotic development.

If it passes, Entasis will market the drug in 34 rich countries, while GARDP gets marketing rights in 166 poor ones. Entasis makes the profit it needs, while the gonorrhoea epidemic in poor countries gets an effective drug – under tight control.

Ultimately, if these schemes don’t work fast enough, governments will have to take over the business of providing antibiotics. It wouldn’t be the first time they have done this kind of thing. Until the 1980s, government agencies produced the public-health vaccines that defeated diseases such as polio, measles and smallpox, as a public good, like roads and schools.

Ideology has frowned on governments messing with markets. But it may take only a few more untreatable cases of gonorrhoea or urinary tract infection to make the critics change their minds.  (An abridged version of an article in the New Scientist,  Jan19-25, 2019).

This is something governments  should be involved in, something for the general good of the whole population that private enterprise simply cannot tackle and stay in business.

The war against antibiotic resistance. No.1: the problem

You have probably heard about the problem of anti- biotic resistance.  This resistance is at last crumbling, but there is another problem – of economics.

The issue is that pharma firms must recoup their investment in developing drugs, but antibiotics are the antithesis of a bestseller. They are taken for days or a few weeks, whereas diabetes or heart drugs are highly profitable because patients can use them for life. Plus, new antibiotics can’t compete with older, cheaper drugs that still work and are no longer patented.

By the time resistance to the old antibiotics builds up and doctors must prescribe new, expensive ones, their patented life may be almost over, leaving little time for their owner to turn a profit. Novel drugs must also be kept in reserve or used sparingly, to stop bacteria building a resistance to them, too.  As a result,  US sales of all antibiotics still under patent totalled just $700 million in 2017 – less than what a single new cancer drug makes in a year. This is having a dire effect on the field. Big companies have  reduced their programmes and are not launching new studies. Now, most drug discovery is done by small, struggling biotech firms. Bad profit prospects meant those working on antibiotics lost some 50 to 75 per cent of their stock value in 2018.  There are only about 800 experienced researchers left working on antibiotics.

A recent study showed that only 56 experimental antibiotics worldwide have passed animal tests and human trials. Typically, only 14 will prove viable and about 5  work in novel ways. That is a concern, because drugs that operate in the same way as existing ones may not be able to defeat resistance.

It is estimated that the loss of antibiotics would cost society trillions of dollars. Tomorrow I will continue by reporting what is being done.  (Based on article in the New Scientist but heavily edited for length,  Jan 19-25, 2019)